After his team put together an anemic, mistake-filled performance in a 20-3 loss to Syracuse on Saturday, Randy Edsall sat down in a room filled with cameras and reporters and sounded more like a high school coach than a college one a single win away from bowl eligibility.
Such is life when you have nine players out for the season and another handful that are either still hurt or on the mend from injuries sustained earlier this season.
Edsall approaches each game like it's an equation. Each player is given an assignment in practice that fits his skill set, which he is then tasked with executing on the field. If all 11 players on each side of the ball fulfill their responsibilities, the Terps have a good chance to win.
However, Maryland's depth chart looks nothing like it did in August, and the young or inexperienced players that litter the field for the Terps have a whole lot more trouble adhering to Edsall's winning formula than their injured predecessors.
"It's obvious that I have to continue to stress the little things and always doing them right and emphasize even more -- and we emphasize it a ton -- to catch the ball, tuck it away, get the ball in that outside arm," a frustrated Edsall said afterwards.
At 5-4, the Terps have now lost four of their last five games. They haven't won a game in the second half of any season since 2010, which was before Edsall came to College Park. Stuck in neutral and one win away from bowl eligibility, Edsall wouldn't consider the idea that their recent slump has become a mental thing.
"I don't know why anyone should be pressing," he said. "All you need to do is go out there and do the job the coaches are asking you to do, so I don't think anyone should be pressing or anything along those lines because we're not putting any pressure on them to do anything but go out and do those things that I just mentioned."
Asked what those things were, Edsall reeled off a list of football's physical fundamentals: catching the ball, wrapping up on tackles, hitting the right hole -- elements of the game that are taught long before guys play in a conference as strong as the ACC.
It is usually the mental mistakes that keep coaches up at night. When physical mistakes like those listed by Edsall do you in, sometimes all that can be done is to throw your hands up in defeat. That is sure what it looked like the Maryland coach was doing on Saturday.
Brown rusty in return
In his first action in three weeks, Terps quarterback C.J. Brown really struggled on Saturday. He completed 21 of 40 passes for 210 yards, but threw two critical interceptions and lost one fumble, all of which ended promising Maryland drives.
In short, the senior signal caller stunk up the joint and afterwards, it was clear that he knew it. As one of the team leaders, Brown has the responsibility of trying to right this sinking ship - a difficult task when your play was the team's biggest issue.
"It's tough for me to say because I was one of the guys that wasn't sharp out there," Brown said. "I didn't execute to my potential and it put our team in tough situations. That falls back on me. It's tough for me to go get the guys going when I'm the problem. I was the one with the three turnovers today. It's a tough situation."
Brown felt prepared going into the game. He'd only played about a half in the past month, but he made an effort this week to get as many reps as he could to try to avoid rust. At times, the results were there. Maryland moved the ball into Syracuse territory four times in the first half, but they went into halftime without a point.
"We kept shooting ourselves in the foot," Brown said. "We kept moving the ball and moving the ball, having good drives and getting down there, but not coming up with anything."
Brown conceded that there are certain things within a game that cannot be prepared for in practice. To open the second half, the Terps' offense looked poised to break through after they darted down the field using an array of creative play calls. Brown then proceeded to fumble a snap on second-and-11 and poof, their momentum was gone.
"[It's tough], because most of those turnovers were on me," the senior said. "I take full responsibility on that. One of them went right through my hands. I don't know what happened, but it can't happen. A turnover is a turnover, and it puts our defense in a tough position."
Offensive line woes
Brown was under pressure throughout the game from a disruptive Syracuse defense, taking three sacks. For Maryland, it's only logical to point the finger at a banged up offensive line that featured a freshman left tackle making his first start in Moise Larose, but both Brown and his coach lauded Larose in his debut.
"I don't think it affected us at all," Brown said. "We've had a short offensive line, in terms of depth, throughout the season. So those guys have been rotating. It was Moise's first start, and I thought he did a great job."
Said Edsall, "Moise is the best left tackle we have, so he was out there and he is going to get better. He is a guy that likes to play, wants to play and it's important to him. And again, his first start, there were some things I know he wishes he'd do better. And he'll get better. It'll be a learning experience for him. Those are the five best we that have, we just have to make sure we continue to work with them to make them better.
Goals still within reach?
The last time the Terps won a game that was part of the back half of their schedule was also the last time they won (or played in) a bowl game. A convenient coincidence considered the Terps have been a win away from clinching bowl eligibility for four weeks now.
"I haven't really thought about it," said Brown when asked about the team's late season woes. "The ACC is a tough league. We've been playing in this league for a long time. We understand each week is going to be a grind; it's going to be a battle. We've faced our fair share of adversity."
Edsall said earlier this week that the goals for this season were still achievable despite the team's recent slide. According to Brown, one loss, as bad as it was, won't be enough to change that.
"We still have three more games," he said. "We still have our goals ahead of us. Injuries are part of the game. We understand that - we've been through this type of thing before. Guys have got to step up."
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